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'I'm so sorry.' Gateway Church holds first services since founding pastor's resignation

Noah Alcala Bach, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in News & Features

Southlake’s Gateway church conducted its first weekend of services since Robert Morris, the founder and senior pastor resigned after confessing to molesting a child in the 1980s, starting when the girl was 12.

The megachurch’s main Southlake campus was full on Saturday night and there were protesters outside; Sunday was a different story.

The Star-Telegram attended the 11 a.m. Sunday service at the church, which featured live worship and a brief address at the opening and close of the service from Jelani Lewis, pastor for Gateway’s Plano campus.

“I’m so sorry. I know that many of us are coming today and we’re all in different places,” Lewis said at the beginning of the service. “Some of us have come in today and we’re heartbroken. Some of us have come in today and we’re angry. Some of us have come in today and we’re not sure what to feel and then some of us have never been more hopeful.”

Sunday’s sermon and addressing of Morris’ resignation by a church elder were recorded from Saturday service and played for the half-full auditorium Sunday, with many leaving before it concluded.

A representative for Gateway Church could not be reached for comment on the decision to replay portions of Saturday’s service.

Tra Willbanks, one of Gateway’s elders, addressed the congregation about the revelations of Morris and his resignation.

Willbanks who has six daughters said “as a father what has happened is extremely disturbing. And I’m experiencing a wide range of emotions like you. As an elder, I did not know the truth. And frankly, like so many of you, my wife and I are shocked, devastated and grieving.”

The sermon was delivered by Joakim Lundqvist, a pastor who heads Life Church in Uppsala, Sweden.

 

Lundqvist, who has spoken at Gateway in the past, said he had never spoken to the congregation with a heavy heart before — but that he also had never wanted to be with them more.

Lundqvist’s sermon revolved around three main points; “stay close to Jesus, stay close to your family and keep believing in the resurrection power of Jesus.”

Lundqvist also compared the exit of Morris to when Ulf Ekman — who founded and served as senior pastor of Life Church — left the Swedish megachurch and converted to Catholicism describing it as a “dramatic and painful exit of a very beloved and respected founding pastor.”

The worship team came back on stage before the service closed and Lewis addressed the congregation telling them to sign up for the chance to speak with a pastor about the events that have taken place at the megachurch.

“We’d love to be able to just process with you, pray with you and walk with you,” Lewis said.

Morris resigned from Gateway on June 18 after admitting to sexual abusing a girl for four years in the 1980s in Oklahoma. He was never charged with a crime.

Morris’ accuser Cindy Clemishire, now 54, said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News the abuse began when she was 12 years old — Morris was in his 20s — and continued until Morris was caught in 1987, when she was 16.

In addition to founding Gateway, one of the largest megachurches in the nation — with nine campuses in North Texas and one in Wyoming — Morris also served as a spiritual adviser to former President Donald Trump.


©2024 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit at star-telegram.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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